The Parisian

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 11 May 2019

Member Reviews

Well written novel with a lot of reasearch behind the story. It has the feeling of the WWII and the times after the war. I loved every single page of the book.
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Wasn't able to read and review book before it was removed form my e-reader

Midhat Kamal navigates his way across a fractured world, from the shifting politics of the Middle East to the dinner tables of Montpellier and a newly tumultuous Paris. He discovers that everything is fragile: love turns to loss, friends become enemies and everyone is looking for a place to belong.

Isabella Hammad delicately untangles the politics and personal tragedies of a turbulent era – the Palestinian struggle for independence, the strife of the early twentieth century and the looming shadow of the Second World War. An intensely human story amidst a global conflict, The Parisian is historical fiction with a remarkable contemporary voice.
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Sometimes you see a beautiful cover but the story doesn't match. This was wonderful inside and out. Wonderful wealth of characters, beautiful writing and a plot to match. Hammad has written a true gem of a story.
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Wonderful book! Well crafted, terrific atmospheres and strong plot. A few flaws that bothered me while reading; a little meandering at times and slow, as well as some words that weren't translated that meant I spent time looking them up, however good learning experience, and characters a little confusing at times. Overall would highly recommend.
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At 576 pages and the amount of detail in this historical book related to Palestine is not for the faint hearted. I have picked it up then put it down on several occasions only to be drawn back into a story that demands to be read yet envelopes the reader in a surfeit of detail to the point of becoming a distraction. The inclusion of Arabic and French phrases also disrupt immersion in the story. It goes without saying this is a story that should be read and an incredible debut novel by Isabella Hammad. The protagonist Midhat Kamal is a hugely interesting three dimensional character that the reader warms too, and is drawn into a need to  understand his journey through life's events from onset of novel when he moves to France to study medicine and falls in love. However the reading experience could and would have become  enhanced if condensed into a more tightly written plot and better flow with less weight given to overlong detail and distractions.
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In The Parisian, although a work of fiction, we have a sensitive and elegantly written novel that shines a light on the Palestinian question in the first half of the 20th century. Our hero, Midhat Kamal is sent to France, from Nablus, to train as a doctor. Love distracts him and so he opts to abandon his medical course and run away to Paris where he studies philosophy and socialises with free-thinking Syrian emigres . After  a couple of years he returns to Nablus determined to become a success in his father's business. But foreign domination of Palestine by the British, the Germans and the Italians changes everything, except his love for Nablus. How he adapts his life around these changes and how he is perceived by his friends and family forms the body of this novel. Tragedy, lost love, mental illness and the overthrow of the traditional way of life in Nablus threaten to destroy Midhat, but, and perhaps due to the education he received in France, he finds the mental strength and reasoning to survive. An excellent and maturely conceived first novel.
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I can tell why everyone is talking about this!  It is intelligent, powerful, and well written.  I can't wait to see what Hammad comes up with next.
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Midhat Kamal arrives in Montpellier in 1914 to study at the University to become a doctor. He falls in love with his University professor landlords daughter, Jeanette, but he becomes disillusioned with the family, and leaves to continue studying in Paris. He lives here during the war, and becomes friends with other Arabic men during a tumultuous time in the Middle East. 

When Midhat returns home to Nablus, he is expected to conform to his fathers wishes, marry a woman from a good Muslim family, and work for the family business. He is thereafter known as The Parisian to those who don’t really know him, because of his style of dress and his outlook on life. 

Politics soon begin to affect every part of his life, as the colonial powers of Britain and France flex their muscles. Their unwillingness to learn histories and the way people actually want to live cause untold problems, which actually we still see the consequences of today. 

I can see that some may struggle with the French and Arabic peppered through the dialogue (I don’t speak Arabic), but I do think it was used in such a way that I didn’t lose track of what was happening, and it lent some credibility to the story. Midhat slips in french words to his speech when something surprises him, or he feels strongly about something. His second language has become a part of him. Endearments are usually in Arabic as well (it took a little while for me to realise what they were, and there are other words used that aren’t just endearments, I’m sure!). 

This is a beautifully told story. It’s hard to read in places - history isn’t always very pretty. But I think it’s important to learn about the past in order to understand the present and hopefully learn from past mistakes. 

Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for my copy of this book to read and honestly review.
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Through a young’s man personal journey from Nablus in Palestine (nowadays in northern West bank) to Paris, during World War I to his return in Palestine at the dawn of its battle for independence, Isabella Hammad illuminates an important period of Palestinian history.

The Parisian starts with Midhat’s arrival in France, to study medicine at Monpellier in South France. He is falling in love with a woman in France and France in general, and when he goes back to Nablus at the end of the war, the Ottoman Empire has been defeated, the British and the French have defined future spheres of control in the Middle East and the Arabs are starting to fight for their independence. While his country convulses, Midhat undergoes his own personal fight, contending with the demands of his inner life influenced by his life in France and the obligations to his family and his community at that period of rapture.

In 2017 there was the one-hundred-year anniversary of the Balfour Declation, a public statement issued by the British government where they committed to facilitate the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine. In the declaration there is a clause that suggests that “nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine.”

It’s clearly didn’t work out that way and what we are seeing today is a continuation of the events that happened during the period covered in the novel. The Palestinians are still fighting for their independence and they still haven’t achieved their political and civil rights. Both Israelis and Palestinians are haunted by their history.

The Parisian is an ambitious, and thought-provoking debut novel. It’s a historical epic that captures a man’s search for identity and love and a nation’s dream and fight for independence.
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I had heard really good things about this book but unfortunately I just couldn't get on with it. I started out really enjoying it and then as the novel progresses and Midhat leaves the home of Jeanette and the professor and travels to Paris, I found the increase in political discussion as well as the repeated sections in French and Arabic too much for me and I reluctantly gave up on it,
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A complex story encapsulating a time of upheaval which has consequences even now. Told through the eyes of an idealistic dreamer in his early travels from Palestine to France as events are at a critical point in Europe. Politics or the fate of the world does not seem to have a place in the consciousness of this naive young man at this time in his life.
 He begins a journey of self discovery as he commences his medical studies in Montpelier. Events occur which damage his newly burgeoning love and trust and launches him in a different direction. Hence he delves into a more free and decadent way of life sampling everything Paris at the time has to offer. Eventually he decides to return home but the rumblings of a turbulent time finds some things have changed during his absence. His fortunes now changed by his fathers demise and the future fate of his country.
The author reflects the times well and the characters are well defined. I found this to be beautifully written with an excellent grasp of the world in the time period concerned. Excellent descriptive narrative and believable characters.
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I'm always a little put off when a story starts with a list of characters. It's not a play! While I can see that keeping the family groups straight is needed, a list is meaningless until I start getting into the story. So, I skipped past and started reading chapter one. 

The protagonist is Palestinian and is on a ship to Marseille. The mixing of Middle Eastern and French culture becomes quickly apparent. I found the subject interesting and the main character sympathetic, but the writing style was tedious and I often found my attention wandering off.

Since I don't speak French or Arabic, a lot of the lines were over my head. I'm also not that familiar with the history involved and I didn't follow it as well as I needed to, to keep up.

Overall I think there were too many characters and not enough context to put the reader into the period.
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I really wanted to enjoy this book and for a short time, I really did. However, the further I got into the story, the less interest I had as there was just something off about the writing style for me. It felt a lot like the author was telling rather than showing and throwing facts and information at the reader and it didn't feel natural to me. After reading positive reviews of this book, perhaps I've missed the mark somewhere and this is clearly not the right story for me. I will say that the premise is very interesting and Midhat is a compelling protagonist, but this was not enough for me to really love the book.
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‘”When I look at my life,” he said, “I see a whole list of mistakes. Lovely, beautiful mistakes. I wouldn’t change them.”’

This is a sprawling historical tale of Palestinian identity and the genesis of the complexities of the current state of affairs in the Middle East as a result of events before and after the First World War. I use the term ‘sprawling’ deliberately for, as much as I found much to enjoy and admire in Isabella Hammad’s new book, the huge range of characters and the passing of time left me unmoved and unable to connect with the main characters of Midhat Kamal and his immediate family. The novel opens with Kamal leaving home to study medicine in Montpelier, staying at the home of Frédéric Molineau. Here he meets Molineau’s daughter Jeannette and falls in love. However, things don’t go to plan and he leaves to move to Paris, dropping his medical studies. Here he mixes with the Parisian crowd, developing western habits and dress sense. Eventually he moves back home to Nablus, and finds himself living the life of a dutiful son, taking over his father’s business and marrying a local girl, Fatima, in an arranged marriage.

This is where it all gets a little too complicated for me, as there are a whole series of subplots involving characters who pop in and out of the story, most involving politics and uprising. There is a priest who starts to work for the British secret service. The long-lost love of Jeannette resurfaces when Midhat finds an old letter that she had sent that his father had never passed on to him, and he has some sort of mental breakdown, ending up in a psychiatric hospital. Finally, he gets home to his wife and children and, well, the book sort of ends.

I read many of the other reviews for this which raved about it being ‘the book of the year’ but, for me, I was left more than a little flat by it all. I couldn’t connect with the main character, found the broad sweep of time passing an awkward way to somehow try and explore the back story of the Middle East crisis, and just lost track of who people were at times. Given the chorus of approval from most others, I’ll take this as a sign that this was just not the book for me. The writing was intelligent and, despite my issues, I kept going until the end so I guess that says something. It just felt that it was trying to hard to be a ‘worthy’ book, a ‘serious’ book, and I just found that got in the way of it actually being an enjoyable read. Others will enjoy this and admire this more than I do, and that’s exactly how it should be. If we all liked the same books then, boy oh boy, it would be a beige-coloured world indeed. A ‘worthy’ 3 stars from me for this one.

(With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title.)
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A truly interesting book about an under-discussed period in history set as the background to a romance. A lovely debut, I look forward to more from Isabella Hammad.
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This tells the story of 19 year old Midhat Kamal as he leaves his home in Nablus in 1914, to travel to France to study medicine. He spends some time in Paris and earns the nickname, the Parisian..there is a failed romance, after which Midhat goes a little wild in the jublilant France after the war...

But when returning home he feels a bit lost and that he no longer belongs…

A beautifully written tale, of politics, love and religion in a turbulent time. This is not a quick read, but one to take your time over.

I would like to thank the Author/the Publishers/NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book for free in exchange for a fair and honest review
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An epic tale of a young Palestinian man who decides to train to become a doctor during the First World War. His training takes place in France where he stays with a family who introduce him to the social elite at dinner parties. He develops friendships and a romantic relationship, but his Middle East roots provoke certain negative attitudes. 

The story covers a huge chunk of his life at a time of instability in the world. There are the crumbling Ottoman and British Empires, the fight for Palestinian independence and intermingled with this are his own personal growth and relationships.

The contrast between France and the Middle East is intensely detailed, with the French parties and the Palestinian markets and festivals, for example, and the changing roles within class and gender lines. Hammad picks out the tiniest features in social interactions, manners and characters to such an extent that it reminds me of Jane Austen.

This is a long book, as are all epics, but it generally flows well with the exception of the intermittent use of French or Arabic phrases. At the beginning there is a list of characters like one would find in a play. I braced myself for a challenge. However, despite the long list and the inconsistent use of first or last names, I could keep up with most of the characters.

The language is quite old-fashioned but modern enough to understand easily. What this means is that this book could still be on the shelves - and selling - twenty years from now. Recommended.

#NetGalley #TheParisian
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Long, drawn out, vague, and assumed a knowledge of the history of Palestine that most people don't have. Pointless tangents that don't go anywhere and a lot of untranslated Arabic conversations that leave you guessing. No real conclusion or plot, which was sad because the idea of the book had me interested. It just did not deliver
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After reading several other reviews before I started this book I expected to love it. 
The story follows the life of Midhat Kamal through the challenging & changing times in the Middle East during the early 20th century - a part of history not often covered in novels. 

Midhat is a privileged, spoilt young child who grows in to a privileged, spoilt, self absorbed man whose focus is on how others perceive him and how he feels he should be perceived by them rather than the world and people around him and this made it hard to warm to him. At times he is almost oblivious to the goings on in the troubled time he is living in. 

The details on the politics and happenings covered in the story are very well researched, but play second story to Midhat as he really has no interest in them. I also struggled to form a timeline of events and when they were happening. At times the descriptions are quite intense & detracted from the story for me.

I struggled with this book but I can see why it has been so well received and would recommend it.
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In many ways, this is an extraordinary book. It is the debut novel from a talented young writer with impeccable credentials (Oxford, Harvard) and has been widely acclaimed. It is ambitious in its scope in terms both of geography and time, akin to a sprawling Russian novel where the plot is handed onto new characters and unravels in new places. There's a sense that Isabella Hammad has read Tolstoy!

The central character for most of the novel is Midhat Kamal, the son of a successful textile merchant in Nablus. Midhat travels to France, ostensibly to train in medicine but becomes immersed in French life and falls in love with Jeanette Molineau, the daughter of his landlord in Montpellier. He never quite copes with French manners and, subsequently, never quite fits in wherever he is. This lack of identity is also at the heart of their failed relationship. As the novel develops, he returns to Nablus and is something of a stranger there too. Although he marries, he never finds contentment and for much of the second part of the novel is confined to hospital.

His new wife, Fatima Hammad, is part of a much more politicised Arab family and as the novel unfolds her family reflects the chaos in the Middle East which followed the fall of the Ottoman Empire, its replacement by bickering colonial powers, the Balfour declaration and the waves of Jewish immigration. It is rare to see an Arabic perspective on this shabby piece of history which was then overwhelmed and overwritten by the onset of the Second World War.

The book has considerable strengths. As mentioned above, it shines a light on a neglected area of history which is significant in terms of Palestine today. The character of Midhat is well drawn but also stands for the failure of the region to find its own identity. The book is stylishly written with some powerful evocations of its various contexts while the mix of domesticity and politics rolls the story along.

However, it is also sprawling in an almost lazy way. There is no central thread of characterisation for the reader to focus on and it is easy to wonder why you should care about this or that member of the Hammad family engaged in some political intrigue which you only have a hazy concept of. The book slips frequently into Arabic and French in conversations which is, perhaps, a bit too clever and there is not what you might call a cathartic dénouement!

I don't know what relationship Isabella Hammad has to the Hammad family and at what point a genuine family story and genuine history intersects with the fiction. I don't like that ambivalence in the novel and that uncertainty over which bits are real and which are fiction.

That said, this is still an extraordinary first novel but, perhaps, some of the lavish praise heaped upon it is a little over the top. When it's made into a film, as it doubtless will be, it will be interesting to see how the director chooses to focus on the story, which characters to bring out and which landscapes to emphasise and you could argue that the novel should already have done that. Regardless of that, this will be the hot holiday read of the summer for those of us who like long, serious books with our sundowners!
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